Saturday, March 20, 2010

Motorcycle camping

How do you overnight when touring by motorcycle?
Traditional motorcycle camping is an honored and cherished tradition, at least for bikers who entered the two-wheeled world a couple decades ago. Today, if you are up for it, motorcycle camping connects us with the men and women who traveled the U.S. on two wheels many decades ago heading to this vacation spot, or that rally. If you’re up for it. It can be fairly primitive. It doesn’t seem as though motorcycle camping is what it once was. There are too many motorhomes pulling motorcycle trailers, or a few motorcycles pulling little campers. To me, motorcycle camping is at most a tent and a few supplies bungieed on to the back of my bike.
I have found that backpacking equipment makes good motorcycle camping equipment. It’s lightweight, compact and durable. So I can pack enough for a week’s stay on my bike, including even a camp stool, cooler, sleeping bag pad, sleeping bag, tent, camp lights, even a one-burner stove.
I recognize that not everyone likes to camp, but it’s probably the most economical way to experience a rally. It allows you to immerse yourself in to the event. Two good examples of motorcycle camping are the Freedom Rally in Iowa and the Sturgis Rally in South Dakota.
The Freedom Rally in Algona, Iowa is my favorite rally. It’s as traditional and focused as any rally you can find. The entire area is owned by ABATE of Iowa. It’s fenced off so that you can access the campground only by motorcycle. Motorhomes and travel trailers are parked down the road at another site. The campground is clean and cool. Big cottonwoods give plenty of shade if you choose that relatively secluded area. Or if you like, you can set up in a sort of “tent city” where the partying never stops. That's the way it is at the Bottom's Up Rally in Marmath, ND.
Similarly there are “motorcycle only” camp sites at the Sturgis Rally. For example, Glencoe has an area where only motorcycles can squeeze through the narrow openings. Pick a spot, park your bike and call it “home” for as long as you wish during the rally.
The benefits of camping like that are obvious: you avoid the astronomical high prices of motels during the rally. One motel in Sturgis where I stay before Memorial Day or after Labor Day prices its rooms between $50 and $80. But during the rally, they are $250 or more. Camping during the rally is as low as $12, but generally in that $30 to $40 range.
Other benefits include the camaraderie of fellow campers, and the immersion in to the motorcycle lifestyle.
The disadvantage is of course you are exposed to the weather as it is – hot, cold or rainy. I’ve climbed in to my tent after a wet day of riding, and there’s no warming up by the furnace or fireplace.
It’s also a bit more work to camp. It’s up to you to pack and unpack as you move. No ready-made beds are available. Showering is a challenge, but usually most campgrounds have a community shower that is just fine with me.
Motorcycle camping is part of the motorcycle experience. If you wanted to travel in luxury, you could have traded in your bike for a pull behind trailer and you drive the country in your car. Or you can just motel hop your way across the country, leaving the confines of your cage for the continued confines of a motel room.
Me? I like the exposure and freedom of motorcycling – and that includes motorcycle camping.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

North Dakota's 9/11 Tribute to fallen soldiers

Not much to say about such an historic event about the “Fallen Soldiers” memorial at the entrance to Fraine Baracks in Bismarck. It was too emotional and too solemn to trivialize with a blog. The Patriot Guard Riders were called on to ride in to event, and ring the center with our bikes, then to protect the grieving families as they paused at the new memorial.

We gathered at a former used car dealer’s lot, and rode the 4 or 5 blocks to Fraine Baracks. Lotsa flags posted. Those of us with 3x5 or larger flags mounted on our bikes led the way in to the memorial area – almost two dozen flags flying in the wind. Of course a photo would be nice, but well, I was riding, too and couldn’t do both.

The usual set of speeches, but then came the families, one by one to hang dog tags on the permanent memorial…even the daughter of one of the soldiers who was killed in Iraq.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

ABATE -- a biker’s network

These days, there’s plenty of talk about “networking.” Websites and social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn are all doing it. But they have nothing over the biker network created by ABATE.

I took a trip the other day down to southwestern North Dakota showed me an advantage of the network formed by ABATE. ABATE is an organization promoting and enhancing motorcycle rider safety and motorcycle rider’s rights. The “B” in ABATE stands for “brotherhood” -- at least as some acronyms spell it out. The brotherhood was fully functioning in Dickinson.

I had every intention of staying home that weekend of the Bottoms Up rally. I had too much work to do. But Red prevailed upon me to take a late season rider to Dickinson and beyond.

We got a late start, and the ride got even later, into the darkness. So, we stopped in Dickinson, at one of those Ma and Pa motels I’m so fond of.

After checking in to the motel, we came back out to unload our bikes, and head downtown. I saw that pool of oil under her FXSTN (Softail Deluxe) but thought nothing of it. We rode to the watering hole owned by a huge ABATE supporter, Bernie Marsh, the Esquire Club. Get that? He’s a part of the ABATE network?

Red backed her bike in to the curb between two other bikes, but it was too tight a fit. So, she pulled out, whipped a u-turn and parked on the other side of the street. It was easy to see the move. It was marked by a trail of oil from her first spot, to her u-turn to the second spot.

I lay on my back next to her bike, trying to trace the potential source of this oil leak. I ruled out the filter, the drain plug and the transmission. There was no sign of oil on the block. It was all from the primary.

Inside the Esquire, I flagged Bernie. He was tending bar and was busier than a bat in a swarm of mosquitoes. I asked him if there were any bike mechanics he knew of in town. He disappeared and came back with the card for a new business in town, Patriot Custom Cycles.

The next morning we headed out to the Patriot shop and me the owner Wes Annable. Wes is another ABATE member and supporter. He’s retired military, had been in Minot, but moved to Dickinson for the weather (yeah I know, I wrinkled my brow on that one, too) and for his family. Dickinson is blessed to have him. He Wes started up this shop in Dickinson, and bikers will do well to trust him with their rides. He sure did us good! His diagnosis of the leak was the same as mine, and in minutes he had the Deluxe up on the hoist. After he got in to it, he saw it was worse than we had thought originally. A short conference and he was ready to dive in to the work.

While Wes was at work, we headed back to the other side of Dickinson on my bike, stopping again at our friendly neighborhood Prairie Rose café – the same one I wrote about in an earlier blog. I’d gone down there earlier in the morning, just in time to shoot the early morning light on the hunters and ranchers stopping in this landmark café.

Later that morning, after a good cuppa jo, we headed back to Patriot Custom. Wes had the bike done, and it was in better condition than we expected.

First, Bernie’s good counsel to hook up with Wes, and then the work Wes did. It’s one of those intangibles that come with belonging to a group such as ABATE -- networking. It’s worth it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I got beat up on the Las Vegas strip

They say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. I hope so. I don’t want that kind of thrash and trash in MY neighborhood.

The day started out very peaceful. I was in Vegas for Blogworld/New Media Expo. Got up early – after all I’m operating on Central Time, two hours ahead of Pacific time – and surveyed the area for good photos spots. I found a parking ramp was good for different elevated shots and intended to go back the next day. Of course, I wasn’t planning on being in the emergency room when the next day began.

The question needs to be asked at some where here, at what point do you stop protecting your camera? I shielded mine and protected it – but at a personal cost. I usually take one or of the other of my cameras when I go for a hike or a walk. In this case, I opted for my Nikon D300 instead of my little point and shoot Pentax. I wish I hadn’t.

About 8:00, I got to The Strip and walked from the Flamingo Casino area down the strip toward Bally’s. I should have known what I was in for when I got off the monorail. There at the base of the steps from the Monorail elevated platform, on the street was a shabbily dressed fellow trying to find a place to pee.

He found a spot. I walked around him and the puddle he was making.

It was a busy night on The Strip, but then I assume they all are that way. I walked past a street musician playing the old Leadbelly tune, Midnight Special. After I walked past, I thought that would make a good “touristy” shot of the casinos in the background and this guy playing. You can imagine the photo. It’s a common kind of photo.

He and his buddy were quite drunk. I spose you can get away with that on The Strip. Wouldn’t happen here. I guess what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. They may have been more than drunk, I don’t know. But what I do know is that before I could turn and walk away, I was accosted by first one, then another, then a group of men who wanted me to pay them for the photo I took of the musician. I laughed. Gave them a business card and tried to walk way.

For the third time in our brief encounter, one man tried to spit on me, this time, spitting in his hand and slapping me on the side of the face from behind. (That's him on the left in the grey tshirt and tan shorts with the tat on his calf. I remember the tat cuz when I was on the ground and he was kicking me, I stood up and grabbed that leg, upending him.)

I turned and wailed on him and then, all hell broke loose as they jumped me.

I huddled over my camera protecting it as I went down. I remember hearing men saying, “Oh oh. Let’s not go there.” It was a crowded sidewalk, but no one stopped to help.

Women were shrieking and one was saying, “Stay away from my aunt. Don’t hurt my aunt.”

It’s like they thought we were playing hacky sack or something.

Not one person offered to either help me, nor take my camera.

Finally, while on the ground, I got my camera set down on the sidewalk, stood up and did battle. It took about 5 seconds for the cowards to freak out.

By then I had blood running down my face. I picked up my camera and headed in to the nearest casino to try to get help. Stupid me.

“We’re not with the casino,” they answered when I asked them to call the cops.

“You’re with the human race, aren’t you?” I angrily retorted. They didn’t move to call anyone.

“What do I need to do? Scream? Shout?” I threatened. They then called Security.

A couple of uniformed men sauntered over after a while and immediately shuttled me in to a hidden room where gamblers didn’t have to be freaked by the blood. They called an ambulance and there I found the first two professional and down to earth people. Ron and Nick. They got me ready for the trip to the hospital, but we waited for the police. And waited. And waited.

When no cops showed, we went to Sunrise Hospital Medical Center in Vegas. I got my tour of the strip out the back window of the ambulance. There, a P.A. Leila and a nurse Kim showed care and cleaned up my blood and let me talk. I needed to talk. They let me. The four of them, Nick, Ron, Leila and Kim were the best things to happen to me that night.

Hours later, still no cops. Finally, almost 4 hours after the incident, the cops showed up, took my statement and a couple photos.

I got stitched up, and my friend from Blogworld, Julie came via taxi to give me a ride back to the hotel.

I’m still quite angry about the whole deal.

Lesson’s learned:
Las Vegas cops are too busy to respond to a simple assault of a tourist.
Tourists in Vegas are too busy to respond to someone needing their help
What happens in Vegas, I hope stays in Vegas. I don’t want that stuff here.

And oh – next time I won’t let $3,000 worth of camera gear get in the way of letting a bunch of pukes know the fear of my fists.

p.s. To get my mojo back, Julie and I went the next day to the LV Harely shop and Arlen Ness shop. That helped. Finally, on a hike of Mt. Charleston (30 miles outside of Las Vegas) my mojo returned.